Writers produce junk. Lots and lots and lots of junk. It's part of the creative process. When plugging through early drafts, it's impossible to know everything we want in our final product. So, sometimes, we experiment. We create unnecessary characters. We send folks places they never needed to go. We give our protagonist an extra sibling, friend, or significant other, who has no relevance to the story we are trying to tell. Every writer does this; in order to learn what works, we often need to test out what doesn't work first.
Our vision evolves as we navigate through a project. We begin with one idea, only to learn it has taken a life of its own. Our characters become the boss; they tell us how the plot unfolds. Sometimes, it's as though we're simply along for the ride.
In my current W.I.P., I have written close to 40,000 words that have already been cut - and I'm still in my first draft. When I started my novel, I had a concept and vague sense of the main character - nothing more. After months of pre-writing, brainstorming, and researching, the story revealed itself, as did the protagonist. He told me how the story went, leaving me with an awful lot of junk needing to be scrapped.
At first, I placed everything I removed in a separate document. I was convinced I could use it elsewhere. Never delete anything, I told myself. The minute you do, you'll want it.
On occasion, I attempted to pull material from my junk pile and insert it into my manuscript. You know what? It didn't work! The voice was different. The ideas didn't fit. The flow was choppy. The poorest reader could tell the words were forced inside like a puzzle piece that didn't quite fit. And so, after evaluating the current state of my project, I decided to delete it once and for all. It was a good feeling.
Junk clutters my head the same way it clutters my house. Just as I tell myself I'll wear those sneakers I haven't fit into for five years - or I'll use that extra piece of furniture in my next place - I tell myself I'll use the words I've scrapped as well. Unfortunately, if I do that, my writing will read like the same way a room looks when put together with random odds and ends. No theme; no coordination. That isn't what I'm aiming for.
As writers, we have to trust our own judgment, especially in the earlier stages of the process. It's hard; we are getting rid of our own words - thoughts that came from inside our own head. It makes spotting the clutter a bit harder.
How do you identify the 'junk' in your manuscript? What do you do with it afterwards?